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New is the New Old

January 7, 2011

I was reasonably amused, in a horrified way, when everyone was talking about the “massive tax cuts” that congress was considering at the end of last year.  In reality the bill passed caused taxes to go up since the estate tax was reinstated.  Otherwise?  Um, looks to me like I’m pretty much paying the same taxes I did last year.

Likewise, what happens when you have to cut your budget, but you’re not cutting your budget?

 

In an early salvo in Washington’s battle over the deficit, the White House ordered the Pentagon to rein in its budget, a move that will force a sizable cut in overall troop numbers for the first time in two decades.

The surprise decision, which is designed to cut a total of $78 billion from the military budget in the next five years, shows how even the military isn’t immune from the political heat brought on by worsening U.S. fiscal woes. It also represents a setback for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had fought to stave off such an outcome.

I heard this news a couple times before I could read it.  So as a conservative and semi-isolationist I should be fearing billions of cuts to our excellent military, right?

The projected five-year budget outlined by Mr. Gates doesn’t include an actual decrease in the military budget. But it will stop growing by 2015. With salaries, health-care and fuel costs climbing every year, the Pentagon needs a 2% to 3% annual budget increase to avoid making cuts in programs.

Not so fast, Chucky.  You’re telling me that you plan to stop growing the budget four years down the road, and that’s a cut?  Yes, I agree that there’s a cost-of-shooting adjustment that  needs to be incorporated into the military if it’s to continue to function like it does already.  But first, the actual growth is still in the budget, just not farther out.  By the time we actually get to cutting those budgets, we’ll be two budgets farther into the discussion, and my cynical self notes that the cuts will probably be farther out by then.

Next, plenty of organizations are taking the painful hit right now, and in many cases that’s not as nice as hanging out a few years while talking about a flat budget.  I think it’s safe to say that there are quite a few former employees who could have dealt with no pay raise rather than their pay coming from unemployment benefits.

I’m sure the budget submitted by Secretary Gates is pretty painful, and there are likely to be 10% less soldiers over time as a result of the plan.  However, the services will survive, and I would expect that we’ll still have plenty of innovation going on in our military that would necessitate less people.  I hope that quite a few other government departments are going through similar — or perhaps more painful — exercises to see if there’s more that can be cut.  Maybe if we cut our deficits, streamline the government, and make some short-term choices, then perhaps the private sector will have more confidence in finding ways to grow in their equally-strained budgets.

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